06 June 2010
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Listen to rock 'n' roll music
Our first day off at Mt. Fuji. There is a large forest on toward the south west of the town, know largely for its very high suicide rate. The map from the hostel, which I later learned was very much not to scale, showed a trekking route over a smaller mountain which would end right by the entrance to the forest. The night before I prepared a playlist for my ipod, trying to fill it with every upbeat song I could find: Lovin' Spoonful, The Mighty Mighty Bostones, Mama Cass, Paul Simon, Miley Cyrus, Journey, Andrew W.K., so as to not be possessed by what ever drives people to travel to this place just to end their lives.
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Doing what you love is partying
I struck out on my own at the crack of 10 am, looking for a 7-11 next to a Mos Burger as my sign post for the beginning of the trail. I passed it several times, just a small parting of the trees, a cramped path, that slowly opened up into a series of switch backs rising above me. After a half hour of clambering upward, I arrived at a small shrine, the first marker on the map to show that i was going the right direction. After catching my breath for a short while, I continued on until i reached a fork, two signs in Japanese, pointing in opposite directions, both uphill. My map showed only one path.
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Don't play it safe
I flipped a coin and chose the path on the right. Grasping at branches, I pulled myself along, the lake in front of me, I realized I had chosen correctly. The trail flattened out at the top and became a nice, leisurely walk. I hadn't seen a single person since entering the trail. I hummed along with the music blasting from my headphones, soon began to sing along with Iggy Pop as I ducked under low hanging branches and jumped over rocks. A flash of gray about a hundred yards ahead killed the music in my throat and froze my feet.
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Put lotion all over your face
Iggy's lust for life couldn't make me move no matter how hard he tried. Three monkeys crossed the path in front of me. The size of St. Bernards, fluffy and gray, bright pink faces. The first two crossed with out hesitation, the third stopped dead in his tracks, turned his head to look at me, then slowly turned his whole body in my direction. Pink fists planted firmly in the dirty. My immediate thought was "Oh cool! Monkeys!" I reached behind me for the zipper to my camera bag, as soon as my finger touched the cool metal, Mojo Jojo took a step forward. My next thought was "Oh shit! Monkeys!"
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: Don't ignore your impulses and don't deny your urges
I began to back up, pink feet matching my steps, soon joined by another pair. I quickened my backwards pace, the Beach Boys lamenting me to visit Kokomo. I forgot where the hill was. As I rolled to the bottom, my music was drowned out by a terrible screeching. I didn't realize my voice could still get that high pitched. As I lay in the soft earth, their presence was announced by puffs of breath from their flared nostrils. Piercing blue eyes hovered over mine, filled with a horrible mixture of lust and murder.
@AndrewWK: PARTY TIP: If you don't go over the top, you won't get to the other side
the skies are clear. the temperature is warm.
we come for the art. a relationship between nature and built form.
the paintings and sculptures are merely bonuses.
POLA MUSEUM OF ART.
the only one of its kind.
unique and original. every detail articulated.
the building meticulously situated within its natural site.
undisruptive of the existing ecosystem, yet irremovable and connected.
the presence of natural light follows us as we travel deeper into atrium. the light does not fade as we descend into the earth. its guiding presence does not falter as we flow throughout the gallery spaces. it becomes the spectacle.
HAKONE OPEN-AIR MUSEUM.
the first of its kind.
objects of art are at the mercy of their surroundings.
the experience is always new as the setting never repeats.
blurring the line between art and nature. real or fake.
a metal orb suspended in the air reflects a distorted, warped context...we believe this to be inaccurate. the picturesque quality of the Japanese landscape is a powerful piece...a seemingly painted context. a pond of seemingly wild koi follows us as we cross the bridge...they wait for their scheduled meal.
person to person. day to day. the experience is different.
03 June 2010
Today we climbed Mt. Fuji. Well, most of us at least.
The weather was brilliant and I was more excited than ever to make the climb. I’ve never climbed a mountain before and this was the chance of a lifetime. I was as prepared as I could ever be and confident that I could tackle the task ahead.
The first couple of hours were tough as I was getting used to the pace, but after a while it got much easier. We were telling stories and cracking jokes and having a great time. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my time in Japan.
When we were a little over halfway up and the climb started to get rough, I jokingly mentioned to Catie that I wouldn’t carry her down the mountain if she got hurt. Of course, as soon as these words left my mouth, I tripped. At first it didn’t hurt. At first I felt fine. But it soon became obvious that I was in no condition to be climbing any more. My ankle started to swell and turn colors.
Uhhh…. This isn’t good…
Catie whips out her cell phone. “Okay, awesome. Now, who can we call?” After about ten minutes of frantic button pushing, she managed to get someone on the line. “Alright. Good news is some one is on their way. Bad news is I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Okay. I can handle this. It can’t be that long, right? By this time my ankle was roughly the size of a melon and hurting like hell. Catie looks panicked. She’s probably worried about the University’s reaction to one of their students getting stranded on a mountain. It really wasn’t her fault though; I’m just clumsy sometimes, honestly.
I hear something coming. It sounds big. “Is that what I think it is?” Catie looked over at me with a face of mild disbelief. “It sounds kind of like a ….” Just as she was about to say the word ‘helicopter’, one came flying out from the clouds and landed on the clearing just below us.
Well. That was quick.
We’re soon surrounded by a team of well-trained Japanese rescue ninjas (not kidding, they looked like ninjas), and I was loaded onto the helicopter, complete with stretcher and neck brace (even though there was nothing wrong with my neck. Apparently it’s protocol).
As we fly through the mist, we catch a glimpse of the crater. From this height, the mountain and the surrounding valley look incredible. The dense trees, the lakes, the developed areas all look like patches on a giant quilt. I manage to snap a couple of photos before we get enveloped in the clouds again. As I’m looking at them now, they’re a little fuzzy, but definitely my favorites of the trip so far.
31 May 2010
The Nagasaki bay area has served as a site for Japanese industries for a long time, not that one could guess this looking at the lush green hills surrounding the coast. If of course you could just crop out the giant metallic obscenities sticking out. In an ironic twist, as some of these docks and factories have turned towards decline, a new business of showing off these capitalistic constructions through boat tours has proliferated.
So we board this ferry armed with simplified maps of the big sites we would hit along the way to the main act, Hashima Island, better known as Battleship Island (Gunkanshima). When at the end of the 19th century a large supply of coal was found in the land under the island, it fast became a massive mining complex owned by Mitsubishi Corporation. As the island expanded, rock wall constructions around the natural shoreline destroyed the islands natural appearance, morphing it into more of a ship-like appearance rather than an island, thus the name.
As the postwar economy expanded, the island’s population peaked to over 5,000 residents, resulting in an explosion of construction on the island. In 1959 the population density was the highest ever recorded worldwide. As petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the sixties, Hashima’s mines suffered, until in 1974 Mitsubishi officially announced the closing of the mine in 1974. Having been evacuated and abandoned in a hurry, the island has since suffered the wrath of many a typhoon and storm, resulting in the current dilapidated state of affairs on it. After more than 20 years of closure, tours began operating in 1999 as the profit potential of the site became apparent.
The actual site of the ghost island did not fail to impress, with its foreboding appearance as we approached it, turning into a more eery attraction the closer we got to it. The solid walls of the island stood in contrasting to the crumbling concrete, with metal structures exposed and corroding. There was an ephemeral, yet timeless feel to it. As if it would always stand in place, yet changing constantly. Trees had begun to stake their claim on the buildings, in the wind you could almost imagine people walking with them. The buildings have their own presence as if they exist simply by their own will, uninhabited, unused.
Leaving the island, it seems to have a magnetic affect on everyone on the boat, they lean over almost tipping off the ferry catching the last glimpse, capturing the last image. No one cares about the 100 million dock port as we move on, with fresh paint and clean lines, it just lacks character.
28 May 2010
Arriving by ferry to Naoshima Island, known as the "Art Island" of Japan, anticipation ran high. Naoshima did not disappoint.
The first night was spent settling into our tiny, traditional Japanese style guesthouse and taking a walk across the island to see a SANAA project, a simple yet impressive ferry terminal. Exquisite detailing, white, light-weight structure, impressively thin roof section; it was the quintisential SANAA project yet unique in both its setting and almost extreme simplicity.
The following day we took on Naoshima in full. The morning was spent wondering the narrow streets of the town we were staying in to visit six "art houses." A foundation purchased these spaces to then commission an artist to insert an installation in each of the houses. The highlights were the installations by Hiroshi Sugimoto the James Turrell (working with Tadao Ando), both providing memorable spatial experiences.
Leaving the small town and walking accross the island through the hills, we arrived at the Chichu Museum of Art. This is where attempting to transcribe the experience is difficult. The museum, designed by Tadao Ando, is sited uniquely in a hill above the sea and features work by three artists: Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter de Maria. The sequence of bunker-like spaces finished with Ando's signature concrete is a highly choreographed experience of light, darkness, sky, earth, and materiallity. In particular, the space for the Monet paintings feels almost unreal. The white space is bathed in diffuse natural light, providing an excellent presentation of the paintings. The floor is composed of thousands of minature cubed tiles, which gives the space a texture under bare feet (no shoes allowed of course). I could continue to attempt to communicate my experience of the museum, but this is one of thoes places that must be experienced in person. Also, no photos are allowed.
The day continued with at another Ando museum, though not nearly as impressive as the Chichu Museum, it contained a nice collection. The museum was similar in concept and siting as the Chichu Museum, but he clearly learned a lot from this project to then go on to produce Chichu. Descending from the museums in the hills, we arrived back at the sea. Public scuplture installations dotted the landscape. One in particular provided an ideal stage for a place to cool off with a savory....
The day ended with some pancakes at a seaside restuarant. Pork, cabbage, scallion, and udon pancakes to be exact.
24 May 2010
We traveled to the mountains, and the purpose is to admire the traditional elegance.
Nikko means sunlight, but it rained all the way from Tokyo to the temples. Open the umbrella, close the umbrella, we walked for hundred of years in between. Water may have washed away the conversation, since only spirit and light were talking in the space.
The noise was on hold for the carnival at night. I can’t really remember what time it was, but the face of the crowd changed to a look of anxiousness. And it all started with the white horse(the saint horse) as it broke out the gate, then the bottomless carriers push through the crowd with the golden carriage on their shoulders. The drum was loud and heavy, people sang the traditional Japanese song along with it and danced around the bunk-fire. Things got a little blurry after that, but I know Tarlton kept saying geishushits. Kurt couldn’t pick up the fat noodles from the shabushabu. Amna had a bag of sweet beans on steroid. Catie was the judge of the late night running game. Michelle asked for a personal guard to take a shower. Adam stepped on my toes. Katy got lost, again. Emily failed to swap her cup with Tarlton’s. Katie wore a yellow Michigan shirt. Alex puked. Sophia speaks Chinese. I left an ice-cream shaped hole in the paper door.
We all enjoyed Nikko.
21 May 2010
17 May 2010
14 May 2010
After the power-point lecture, Professor Researcher took us on a tour of the places he briefly introduced in the lecture slides. Among these was the Daienji Temple. This was supposedly the location of where Oshichi started her fire. To demonstrate how quickly fire can spread through the dense, wood-constructed buildings of Tokyo’s neighborhoods, Professor Researcher set up a series of wooden bundles to show a controlled fire damage simulation. Unfortunately, the controlled simulation became a out-of-control situation and we leveled all of Tokyo…so we are relaying our fugitive situation via the back alley behind an Internet café right now.
…OK, so I’m a terrible liar; I can’t stand this dishonesty, even if it’s just a story. We didn’t really re-level Tokyo, but we did witness some arson in action today. It happened at Enijiyouji Temple, one of our stops on our tour route with Professor Researcher. The temple was famous because it is the setting for Ihara Saikaku’s popular novel, Koshoku-gonin-onna, and also because it contained the tomb of Oshichi there. As we started to take some photos, a small group of people wearing traditional mourning attire and painted face masks slowly approached. To respect their wishes to pay their respects, we retreated a short distance from the site so Professor Researcher could tell us more about Oshichi’s tomb while we waited for our turn.
Unfortunately, we never got our turn. We heard a small explosion from where the "funerary mourners" had been and all turned toward the source to see the arsonists running away and flames quickly licking up the wooden frame of the temple. The professor and his assistant starting yelling rapidly in Japanese, which none of us understood. As our class tried to figure out how to dial for the fire department on Catie’s cell phone, many Japanese people from surrounding apartments and houses in the area began running and gathering at the fire site, which was still accelerating into a small inferno. One of the neighbors had a small gardening hose; it couldn’t reach far enough to put out the fire, but it was enough to prevent the fire from spreading further from the temple. When the firemen did arrive (no thanks to us, by the way: another Japanese neighbor successfully made the phone call while we fumbled in our Japanese-English dictionaries), they were able to successfully put out the fire, but the temple was already in charred ruins.
At this point, the professor apologetically told us that he would have to discontinue our tour; the police would be arriving soon to discuss the cause of this fire and not only did he not want us to get unnecessarily involved, but our inability to speak fluent Japanese would render us useless anyway. Regrettably, we realized that this was true, although we did want to help (and find out more about the situation), and decided to walk and talk instead. Even though the loss of such a culturally-important temple is saddening, at least it didn’t become a tragedy like the Edo Tokyo fire. Besides, the city of Tokyo is founded on a constant cycle of periodic re-leveling and reconstruction…and it does seem ironically fitting that the tomb of Oshichi the arsonist would become a victim of arson itself. It also makes for an interesting story to accompany the next-built Enijiyouji Temple.
13 May 2010
After a few hours of sleep and a five in the morning departure, we find ourselves in the center of Tokyo's fish market.
As we are told that everything here is "fresh" and we need not worry about getting ill, my eyes wander about the market and fixate on a Japanese man chain smoking five inches above a four foot long slab of raw tuna lying on the bloody concrete floor- half his cigarette is ash, waiting to fall but does not.
Small motorized carts, essentially comprised of what looks like a vertical keg for a steering wheel and a six foot long flat bed in back, roar past us from any given direction and at any given speed. There are no lights, no signs. They seem to be going back and forth between delivery and packaging, from the market to the trucks respectively. Each one appears to be on its own personal collision course, destined to to be totaled, and yet neither a fender is scraped, nor a frustrated remark shouted; this is not a job for a NYC cab driver. At times a cart hurries by and it is carrying very little on its bed and I understand that much of this work is simply keeping things moving.
Streets and alleys start to form as a result of the traffic caused by both carts and pedestrians. They form around fish vendors in the market place and a haphazard grid forms throughout the market; this is a walking street, this is a delivery street. Every morning this system is a phoenix rising from the ashes, a burning man on acid. The tall dark awning covering the vendors, people dodging high speed carts, blood red octopus tentacles overflowing cardboard boxes, a barrel of slowly suffocating eels squirming, live fish being tossed from tank to tank waiting to hear their final sentence, a crab already breaded but crawling around before it is packaged alive, all of these images scream death and yet this place is unmistakeably very much alive.
Chefs carry large bamboo baskets and rush past me in the narrow alleys between vendors, hurrying to "their guy" in an attempt to get a good deal. Large decapitated fish heads conglomerate in the middle of the streets, while their human sized bodies are descaled and hacked up using an archaic form of what appears to be a table saw. I think it is odd that their are no birds around picking up the scraps. Where are they? Where am I?
Unlike the birds, my curiosity got the better of me. I did not stay away. I decided that I'd better try something while I'm here. I swallowed the blood coated squid, feeling it feeling the inside of my mouth and throat. I should have been a bird, I should have stayed on my plane and up in the air. I vomited immediately, before the squid reached my stomach, and watched helplessly as the mess landed in the carton of squid from which it had originated. "I'll take the whole thing, please."
It was late in the morning and the trucks started to disappear, the vendors pack up. Soon nothing would be left of this city; only a bitter taste in my mouth and a bag full of squid. I think I'll feed the birds.
12 May 2010
What starts as a morning in Detroit, ends as a late night in Tokyo. Seems like a simple enough task for those used to a skewed definition of a single day through the hours of an architecture school. However, this excursion adds the jump in time zones and the chasing of the sun.